book reviews | fiction

Book Review: The Shadow Year

I’m an impatient reader. If a book doesn’t grab me within the first two or three chapters, I’m done. And that’s how it would have been with The Shadow Year had it not been the book of the month at our book club! The reviews for The Shadow Year also had me determined to keep reading. Surely a book with such amazing reviews must be worth the effort! So I continued on, and I’m glad I did. Once it finally hooked me, I found it hard to put down.

So what’s it about?

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she fin ds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

(Courtesy of the blurb)


Even the blurb sounds intriguing right?

Thinking back, I’m not sure why the book didn’t grab me initially. Hannah Richell is definitely a talented writer and her use of description and imagery is masterful although perhaps a little over done. She certainly describes the lake and the cottage in beautiful detail but after the Lake shimmered in the sun for the umpteenth time I was a little frustrated and bored. As someone in our book club pointed out Richell tends to tell a lot of the story rather than show which can become quite tiresome for the reader. I would be interested to read her first novel ‘Secrets of the Tides‘ to see if this is just her writing style or unique to this book.

However, while the initial pace of the book was slow burning, about half way through Richell splashes on some accelerator and the story blazes ahead to a point where it becomes a true page turner. I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what happened and why, and how it was all going to end up.

The book is driven by plot which is very strong and focused, however at times I felt that the characters were not well rounded and it made it hard to connect to any of them. I felt they were hiding in the story rather than being the story.

One part of the book that does need applauding was Richell’s use of dialogue. As a writer, I understand how difficult it can be to keep the story flowing and insert meaningful, effective dialogue. Richell has this covered and perfectly weaves in just the right amount of dialogue to keep the story moving. The characters speak only when necessary and it reads as a conversation, as it should.

Richell also deserves credit for the masterful way the plot twists and turns. Just when you think you have figured out what’s going on she throws another curve ball, right up until the final twist right at the end. Although I did pick up on a lot of things, the final twist was surprising and I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Looking back it is interesting to also note the subtle clues she scattered through the story that will make you wonder why and how you missed them.

Overall, I would give The Shadow Year a four out of five, which might seem surprising considering I was almost ready to give up on the book.  However, the second half of the novel definitely makes up for any shortcomings in the slower paced beginning.

The reviews are right. The Shadow Year is engrossing, gripping and suspenseful.

The Shadow Year by Hanna Richell
Published: 2013 by Hachette Australia